12 years and counting of ASSET Question-A-Day

Which are the first few things that come to your mind when you hear the word ‘questions’? Words ‘test’ and ‘examination’ are more likely to be in the list than ‘learning’ or ‘inquiry’; ‘fun’ or ‘curiosity’ are even more less likely to be on the list. The unsaid linkage between ‘exams’ and ‘pressure to perform’ can be detrimental to the way students learn. Research indicates that students who focus on test in order to learn are more likely to lose interest in the subject matter and may learn only at a superficial level, without developing understanding and a lasting interest for further learning 1 .

We strongly believe that good questions can be much more than just a tool to check whether students can answer something or not. Do note the emphasis on the word ‘good’ here. There are many reasons why one should ask good questions. Some of the most important reasons being –

• Good questions can help in providing feedback on what students are learning
• Good questions can help in distinguishing mechanical learning from real learning
• Good questions can help in identifying misconceptions and common errors

In addition to these, what good questions can do is they can influence how and what students learn and can help stimulate thinking. Let us look at the following two questions.

 

Both these questions are related to the concept of ‘phases of the Moon’. The key difference is that the first one simply checks whether students ‘knows’ the name names of the phases of the Moon or not whereas the second one checks whether students ‘understand’ the reason behind seeing the different phases of the Moon. While there is nothing wrong with the first question, what it can do is only check whether students can recall a name correctly or not. Either a student knows it or doesn’t. On the other hand, what the second question can do is it can influence the way students learn. Even if the student doesn’t know the answer, it may stimulate thinking and trigger a series of thoughts that can help students form a hypothesis around the phenomenon of occurrence of phases of the Moon. And this we believe is more important than the ability to recall a fact.
Imagine the power of such stimulating questions which are also interesting and fun to answer. Let us look at this question for example.

What this question does is it takes a simple, relatable context and allows students to think about something they are generally not asked – how the weight of a paper changes when it is crumpled. In our experience of interacting with students on such stimulating questions, students get extremely engaged and try to reason out their answers by providing justifications from what they have observed or what they have come across while studying the concept. They hardly think of these as questions to be answered. Rather, they use such questions as an opportunity to convey their own thinking, discuss it with the peers, hear other views and come to a judgement about whether their own reasoning is correct or not. Such is the power of simple yet interesting, thought-provoking questions.

This has been the one of the core principles of EI’s ASSET test. ASSET questions test fundamental understanding in an unfamiliar yet simple way and tries to gather insights about how students think. ASSET questions have been widely recognized for their ability to trigger the thinking process in children and to expose them to a fresh and unique way to check their own understanding of key concepts covered in the school curriculum. ASSET questions are designed with diagnosis in mind, in order to find out whether specific areas of a given subject are adequately understood and in order to detect misconceptions.
Feedback from students on ASSET questions often include words like ‘interesting’, ‘fun’ and ‘made me think’. Armed with this philosophy, the ASSET Question-A-Day was introduced in 2008. ASSET Question-A-Day (AQAD) aims at giving 1 thought-provoking everyday and letting students answer as well as articulate their reasoning behind the chosen answer.

Though 1 question daily may seem too little, the objective of AQAD is not to prepare students for any tests. AQAD’s objective is to inculcate the habit of engaging with good, interesting questions and developing the skill of using conceptual understanding to arrive at answers. This practice of providing content in smaller chunks is also found to be effective according to research. As per a research published in the Journal of Educational Computing Research , short content drives over 20% more in terms of information retention.

In addition to providing content in smaller bits, it also brings in the much needed regularity and the discipline of doing things at a certain frequency. Many times this notion of repeated exposure and practice is missed out and the approach doesn’t yield the desired outcome. AQAD gives this much needed opportunity to engage with bit-size content in a regular manner and helps students to develop the skill of thinking and reasoning.

AQAD can be accessed from www.aqad.in. Questions are shared 6 days during the week, each day designated for a specific subject. Shown below is a screenshot from the AQAD website. It shows a Class 3 English question. There is an option to change the class and see questions from other classes. There is also an option to change the date and view questions from the past. Students can select and submit their answer. In addition to submitting the answer, students also have the option to write their explanation to the question and submit it.

 

Students are encouraged to share their explanations along with the answer. This is done in order to help students articulate their thinking. Writing explanations can help one understand if they are being clear about the reasoning. It is a skill of expressing oneself and systematically collected explanations, like in AQAD, can help in building a valuable repository of student thinking as shared in their own words. It can further help educators detect misconceptions and knowing their prevalence. Shown below is a screenshot of the kind of explanations that come in everyday on questions.

 

64% of the students who submitted explanation selected the correct answer C. 25% of the students selected option D. It clearly indicates a misconception they may have developed related to the concept of centre of gravity. What is really insightful are the kind of explanations that come in. As shown below, even for the correct answer there are varying kinds of explanations, some that really explain the correct reasoning whereas some that just paraphrase what the correct answer is. Explanations behind the misconceptions help in understanding the incorrect reasoning and the root causes behind those misconceptions.

 

The correct answer of the question along with the best explanation is published on the website the next day. AQAD champions are announced each month and leaderboard tracks the number of best explanations submitted by students. The objective behind publishing the best explanation is to provide a healthy competition to students and motivate them to continue sharing their reasons and not just the answers. Shown below is a screenshot of one such leaderboard.

 

 

Initially when AQAD was introduced, questions were emailed to schools every single day. Each question was provided with four answers to choose from. Along with the question, the answer to the previous day’s question was also provided. Schools enrolled with ASSET were provided with AQAD booklet, a compilation of interesting thought-provoking ASSET questions to help the teachers to use these questions in their regular classroom. Here is a sample question sent through email back in 2008.

 

To make these questions easily accessible to students and teachers and to increase participation, a website for AQAD (www.aqad.in) was built in 2015. Anyone can sign up to access the questions for free. As of date, there are 2,43,712 registered students on the AQAD website. Over 7,00,000 explanations for different questions have been received over the past 7 years of conducting AQAD online. This is one of the largest repositories available of student written explanations collected systematically over a period of time.

For 1.5 years, EI had partnered with Edmodo – a global education network that helps connect all learners with the people and resources needed to reach their full potential to publish AQAD on their platform. The engagement and response were overwhelming. We received around 15 million responses on the AQAD questions published on Edmodo from across the globe making it a global learning platform.

Schools and teachers have been using AQAD in very interesting ways online as well as offline. Using features specifically designed for the teachers, there are teachers who through their account, create a virtual classroom online and track the performance of their students on certain questions over a period of time.

Below is how AQAD is used in a reputed school in Bangalore offline.

AQAD is used every day to give exposure to good questions that trigger real learning among students. In our school, a print out of the ASSET Question a day is taken and put it up on the notice board. Students go through the question and submit their answers in the form of chit. They put this chit in an ASSET pouch, specially designed by the students of each class.
The next day, one entry from each class is selected and the winning student gets a chocolate. This activity has created a lot of buzz in the school and students look forward to answering the questions daily.

 

In case you want to know more about AQAD, how schools have been using it or if you have have such stories to share with us, do write to us at aqad@ei-india.com.

 

Sheldon, K. M., & Biddle, B. J. (1998). Standards, accountability, and school reform: Perils and pitfalls. Teachers College Record, 100(1), 164–180.

Kapp et al. “Distributing Vs. Blocking Learning Questions In A Web-Based Learning Environment.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 51.4 (2015): 397-416.